Children spreading pornography in group chats without any concern

The Federal Criminal Police Office draws attention to the fact that depictions of violence and abuse are increasingly being spread by children and young people in WhatsApp chat groups. The young users are often not aware of the criminal liability.

For about two years, police authorities have been observing an increase in the number of cases in which children and young people have shared criminally relevant images and video material in chat groups. Apparently, they do not disseminate the illegal material for pedosexual motives, but rather innocently as a kind of dare or because they find the videos, which are often subsequently accompanied by music and sounds, funny. The head of the BKA's "Serious and Organized Crime" department, Dr. Sabine Vogt, warns: "Forwarding such images and films is not a petty crime. [...] The police consistently pursue such cases. Adolescents and young adults must be made aware, especially by their guardians, but also through prevention work, that they expose themselves to prosecution with these actions." This is because not only the forwarding, but also the possession of child pornography is prohibited under Section 184 of the Criminal Code.

How children and young people get hold of the punishable material is not always entirely clear. In some cases, it happened that chat groups were founded by adult, pedosexual perpetrators in order to specifically invite children and adolescents. The content shared there was later redistributed by the minors in other chat groups, for example in class chat. In this way, the inadmissible images and videos achieved widespread distribution within a very short time. Some of the videos were manipulated in such a way that the thumbnails suggested harmless content. As a result, children are unintentionally lured to disturbing content. Another type of manipulation is that videos have been retrofitted with music or overlays to trivialize what is actually cruel content. In other cases, children and young people made so-called porn stickers or porn memes themselves and spread them in WhatsApp groups.

What can parents do to protect their children?

  • Seek a conversation with their child to sensitize them to the topic. Spreading child, youth and animal pornography is not a joke, but a criminal offense. Anyone who comes across or is sent such content is required to report it to the criminal investigation department immediately.
  • Talk to your child about the possible consequences. Although children under the age of 14 are not liable to prosecution, this does not protect them from a search by the police. In this case, all media devices (cell phone, tablet, laptop, game consoles, etc.) will be confiscated and evaluated. Juveniles over the age of 14 are at risk of a conviction under juvenile criminal law. Under certain circumstances, parents or guardians may also face legal consequences, for example, if the cell phone contract is in your name.
  • Make important security settings on the smartphone together with your child. For the WhatsApp messenger, for example, this means switching off the automatic download of media (settings > Data and storage usage > Autom. download of media). In addition, privacy should be set so that foreign contacts cannot add your child's cell phone number to a WhatsApp group. Via Settings > Account > Privacy > Groups, you can set which contacts from the address book are allowed to add to groups.
  • Discuss with your child that group invitations from strangers should generally not be accepted. Even joining a group can constitute the criminal offense of possessing child pornography by automatically downloading image and video files. Groups can also be reported directly to WhatsApp.
  • Make sure your child understands that even seemingly harmless videos can hide cruel content. The preview image may have been manipulated to disguise the true content. Therefore, only videos sent by trustworthy people should be opened.
  • People who were the victim of sexual violence as a child often still suffer years later from images of their abuse circulating on the Internet. Talk to your children in an age-appropriate way about the fact that circulating abuse images is prohibited simply out of respect for the victims.

Various materials for prevention work with children and young people are available on klicksafe:

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